Skill Sets for Transitioning into a Cybersecurity Career

Changing careers is never easy. How long or far you have already traveled down your particular career path can make the thought of changing careers a little intimidating. Often, people who are unhappy with their jobs stay put simply because they are unsure of how their skills can translate to other career aspirations.

For people who possess the right types of skills or experience and are ready to take the leap, cybersecurity could be a great choice for a mid-career change. Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing, most in-demand career categories—and with good reason. Cybercrime is on the rise, with no signs of slowing. Not only are cyberattacks becoming more frequent, but they are also becoming more severe. By 2021, cybercrime is expected to cost $6 trillion globally. It is no wonder, then, that the U.S. Department of Labor projects a 28% increase in cybersecurity jobs by 2026.

However, employers are finding it difficult keeping pace with the demand for these positions. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021. The shortfall is, in part, a result of the absence of cybersecurity curriculum at colleges and universities, where not enough graduates are entering the workforce with relevant knowledge and necessary skills.

To help fill this gap, employers increasingly are looking for seasoned professionals from a variety of professional backgrounds and at different levels of their career who possess the kind of skills and expertise that could allow for a smooth transition into the cybersecurity field. Unlike new graduates, seasoned professionals arrive with the value of real-world experience from a variety of business disciplines. Another way employers are attempting to entice people into the field is offering attractive salaries and benefits packages. Cybersecurity professionals can earn an average starting salary of $97,000 a year or more.

While there is no single, ideal career path leading to cybersecurity, there are certain backgrounds and skill sets that lend themselves well to the profession.

Transitioning From Within IT

The most obvious—and perhaps fastest—route to a career in cybersecurity is from within the IT field itself. Computer programmers, software engineers, IT technicians and network administrators are just a few examples of IT roles that would transition easily to a position in cybersecurity.

Employers who are trying to fill cybersecurity roles are looking for workers with solid experience in IT fundamentals. This includes networking database management, systems administration and experience with web applications. Also important is being well-versed in the operations of server equipment, enterprise storage and networks, applications and even physical security.

However, according to a 2017 study by the Global Information Security Workforce (GISW), only about 3 in 10 people come to the cybersecurity field from a background outside of information technology.

Military and Law Enforcement

Military veterans may not realize it, but many of them are particularly well-suited for careers in cybersecurity, either in the public or private sector. Many of the men and women in our modern military have a wealth of hands-on experience with some of the most sophisticated technologies available. In addition, they often work with highly sensitive information that is stored on networks that are some of the most targeted by hackers anywhere in the world. As such, their military jobs require intelligence gathering, situational awareness and maintaining security protocols—all important skills that translate well to any number of cybersecurity positions.

Fortunately for ex-military or those about to leave the service, veterans’ programs are actively promoting career opportunities in cybersecurity and many are even providing additional training and certifications.

Police officers, many of whom retire at a relatively young age, are another group frequently seeking midlife career opportunities. Like military veterans, their skills and experience make them a good fit for cybersecurity roles. Investigative skills, forensics and a deep understanding of the criminal mind are all skills former police officers and detectives can offer in the cybersecurity function.

Soft Skills

While some technical skills are important to possess in transitioning into a cybersecurity career, there are also certain “soft skills” that employers look for that are considered essential. The ideal candidate has a mix of both. Above all, it is critical that a candidate possess a genuine interest in how technology works, because people in cybersecurity must understand exactly what they are protecting and what factors can cause vulnerabilities.

Strong communications skills are also important, as cybersecurity professionals must be able to articulate clearly to both technical and non-technical colleagues what threats the organization is facing, as well as response recommendations. Often, this must be done quickly under high pressure circumstances, so the ability to remain calm in a crisis is also valuable.

There are other personality traits employers look for in cyber candidates. It makes sense that people who have a passion for solving complex puzzles are especially well-suited for the cybersecurity field. But just as important are persistence and resourcefulness. Companies are looking for people who refuse give up when a problem seems too complicated to solve and who will look for inventive ways to tackle it beyond using just the tools they have at their disposal. It may be a cliché, but thinking “outside the box” is an important skill to have in this field.

If you possess some of the skills, experience and characteristics outlined above and are looking to make a career change, cybersecurity can be a challenging yet exciting profession—one that provides vast opportunities to work with many innovative technologies. It also can provide a sense of career fulfillment, knowing that you are protecting consumers and businesses from bad actors hiding in the dark recesses of the internet.

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